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With: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Fann Wong, Donnie Yen
Written by: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Directed by: David Dobkin
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action violence and sexual content
Running Time: 114
Date: 30/01/2003

Shanghai Knights (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Fastest Fun in the West

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Shanghai Knights starts off quite slowly with ornate, candle-litpictures of China -- as if director David Dobkin (Clay Pigeons) hopedto make another version of The Last Emperor or Raise the RedLantern. But have no fear. Before long things will pick up and JackieChan will kick butt again.

Indeed, Shanghai Knights turns out to be Chan's best and giddiest movie since the original Shanghai Noon and maybe even Drunken Master II (the original version, not the butchered, re-released The Legend of Drunken Master).

Even Owen Wilson, who has recently turned big time movie star and taken on bland, soulless roles in films like Behind Enemy Lines and I Spy is back as his usual oddball, down-home, motormouth self.

Wilson, who co-wrote the superb Wes Anderson films Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, has a true gift for gab, and Shanghai Knights feels organically written, as if Wilson made up most of his dialogue on the spot.

"There, I said it!" Roy O'Bannon (Wilson) drawls, opening his arms wide in a gesture of vulnerability. "It's out in the open!" He's just told Chon Wang's sister Chon Lin (Fann Wong) that she has a great body. This may not sound particularly funny written down, but in the moment, it's unavoidably giggle inducing. As are most of Wilson's scenes.

The plot has Chon Wang (Chan) and Chon Lin avenging their father's murder while trying to recover the stolen seal that their family has guarded for several generations. The culprit is British bad-boy Rathbone (Aidan Gillen), who is tenth in line for the throne. Borrowing an idea from the great 1949 film Kind Hearts and Coronets, he hopes to knock off the previous nine.

But, borrowing an idea from the great 1951 film Strangers on a Train, Rathbone trades crimes with Wu Yip (Donnie Yen, from Iron Monkey), who will perform the nine murders in exchange for the seal.

And so this plot brings our heroes to merry olde England, which allows for plenty of great Jackie Chan fight scenes -- including a dazzling one borrowed from Singin' in the Rain and another one borrowed from Harold Lloyd's Safety Last, involving fight at the top of Big Ben.

It's true that the 47 year-old Chan is slowing down a bit, but he's still very impressive. And Shanghai Knights clearly shows him as he wants to be seen, as a comic artist with a gift for movement, and not a violent fighter-type. His big showdown has him in a two-against-one swordfight in which he looks genuinely terrified and maybe a little out of his league.

In addition to the Gene Kelly and Harold Llloyd references, Chan actually shares scenes with another of his heroes -- Charlie Chaplin, running around England as a pocket-picking youth played by Aaron Johnson.

And despite the fact that Wilson talks while Chan moves, the pair still have a wonderful chemistry together, much more interesting than the Rush Hour films in which Chris Tucker constantly tries to draw attention to himself. (God help us, Rush Hour 3 is due next year.)

In the end, O'Bannon and Chon Wang (whose name gets confused with "John Wayne") ride off into the sunset, headed for Hollywood where the talk is of a new invention called motion pictures.

The thought of Chan doing silent film -- inventing a string of kung-fu comedy classics alongside masters like Lloyd, Chaplin and Buster Keaton -- is almost too good to be true. It makes one wish that Chan were making great films today in the same vein as his stylistic predecessors.

I mean, Shanghai Knights is about as good as it gets in Hollywood's assembly line, but Chan deserves greatness.

In 2013, Disney/Buena Vista released a Blu-ray that includes both Shanghai Noon and its sequel Shanghai Knights. The sound quality is arguably stronger than the picture quality, but both are very good, and it was lots of fun to watch these movies again so many years later. On the first movie, director Dey and actors Wilson and Chan provide a commentary track; there are several short featurettes, a music video, deleted scenes, and a trailer. The second movie has two commentary tracks, one with the director and the other with the writers. It has two short featurettes and some deleted scenes. All the extras are in standard-def, pulled from the original DVD releases.

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